I’m living proof that almost everything you need to teach your young children about patriotism you can show them through John Wayne World War II movies.
I’m not sure that my grandparents were deliberately trying to teach me about patriotism, sacrifice and honor when they let me watch those flicks but that’s exactly what those movies taught me about. In fact, for reasons that even I still don’t understand, those movies were so real to me that from the age of six until I was nine I honestly thought that the U.S. was still fighting the Nazis.
Most men my age would tell you that they grew up wanting to be a fireman, policeman or doctor. Not me. Thanks to John Wayne I wanted to be a soldier. I probably would have been one, but the 10 years I spent in two terribly run military private schools were so bad that I changed my mind.
Many years later I still marvel at WWII movies (Saving Private Ryan is one of my all time favorites) and at the legacies of the soldiers in my life. In my family alone there is a WWII vet who fought in Japan, a Marine and Vietnam Veteran who created the Waco Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Texas (my father-in-law Manuel), and an Afghan and Iraq War serviceman who is still enlisted. Including my late father, who was in the Army, and two other cousins, five men from my family have served in the United States armed forces.
My family duty – my patriotic duty – is to use occassions like today to remind my children what Memorial Day and being American in general means to us. I use the opportunity to show them that the American flag still symbolizes the highest standard known to mankind about freedom and justice for people around the world. As they grow up I will never sugar coat that we have made major mistakes in our history and that we have not always lived up to the high standards we know but I will tell them that at the end of the day, despite many shortcomings, there is so much to love about our country.
Fresh out of church yesterday, my son reminded me that somehow, someway he’s caught on to my John Wayne Patriotic Trick about the meaning of patriotism, heroism, God and country. Shortly after service I asked my 10-year-old if he understood what Memorial Day was all about. Without coaching of any kind (and no specific training from church), Jonathan’s profound answer surprised me.
“It’s sort of like Jesus. He died because he wanted to save everyone in the world. Our soldiers died so we can be free.”
Somewhere up there, John Wayne must be smiling.